Cirque de Summit Race photo
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Family Photo: Candy’s sister on the far left and Mom on the right.

Candy The Connector

After 19 lengthy and grueling hours the pair of runners arrived back in the Wellington neighborhood.  They recapped the journey, steady footsteps at a constant pace that graced the trails for 50 long miles circling the community they call home.  But this race had a deeper meaning, and the recollection of this special day of remembrance would stay with the two women forever. 

“Sharing my story is important for those of us who go through trauma, tragic loss, frustrations, depression, or suicidal thoughts to find the hope and resources to not feel alone.” 

Since graduate school, local philanthropist Candy Elkind has been labeled “Candy the Connector” by friends and family for her willingness and efforts to support her community. For over 25 years she has been involved closely with fundraising and philanthropy efforts, for the last decade with Summit County. Candy serves as the philanthropy officer for the hospital foundation. She works closely with Building Hope to provide scholarships for individuals who come through the emergency department in need of mental or behavioral health assistance. 

After the pandemic started, Candy saw community issues escalate. Those issues included high suicide rates, substance abuse, job layoffs, and loss of family members due to COVID. She wanted to help. However, this is when tragedy struck her personally and she was forced to focus on healing herself. 

Turning Trauma and Loss into Community Healing

In the fall of 2019 Candy relocated her elderly mother from Pennsylvania to an assisted-living facility in Denver. Candy’s sister had been their mother’s caretaker for a decade and Candy looked forward to relieving her sister. Unfortunately, a few months later Candy suffered her first blow with the death of her 91-year-old mother due to COVID complications. 

That death was traumatic for both sisters. Due to a back injury, her sister had become dependent on painkillers. Eventually the addiction switched to heroin. Candy had believed that taking over the role of caretaker for their mother would be positive for her sister’s substance-abuse recovery. 

Six weeks later, when the death of her mother was still fresh and consuming, she received a devastating phone call. A bad batch of heroin and fentanyl had taken her sister away in minutes. “Whether it was intentional or not,” Candy says, “and I would like to think that it wasn’t, I think she just couldn’t cope with not taking care of Mom, not having that purpose, and struggling to find her own path outside of being a caretaker.” 

Giving Back to Others can Help Heal your Heart

Candy leaned on her support system (including her husband, stepson, cousins and immediate family) to begin her healing. She also utilized the Bristlecone Grief Support Network through St. Anthony’s Summit Hospital, and connected with a therapist through the Building Hope website. 

Despite dealing with her own grief journey, Candy the Connector was inspired to turn her own anguish into something positive for her community. A health care scholarship was set up in her family’s name to provide support for caregivers to advance their careers. She wanted to give back to a network of support that was crucial to her healing journey. “Philanthropy can heal. If you can be in a space to give back to help others, it can help heal your heart.” 

Candy was also instrumental in the launch of the Summit County chapter for the OneDegree Website and App. With the help of donors and a collaboration from local non-profits, the app provides resources for families, individuals, and visitors to the community. Among other things, the app includes information about mental and behavioral health, housing, employment, and daycare options. 

With all the positive work “Candy the Connector” has contributed to Summit County during her grief journey, she is already thinking of how to improve access for mental and behavioral health resources. Nearly two years into the pandemic it’s clear there is a higher need and people are struggling. Nurses and healthcare workers at the hospital are burned out and working overtime. Local businesses are short staffed, while community members continue to struggle with housing and how to thrive in the county. Therapists are stretched thin and can’t keep up with demand. There is still more work to do. 

“It takes a village,” Candy says. “It’s ok to not be ok. I want to share my story to reduce the stigma around mental health and help others find the hope and resources through my sharing. Once you start sharing, you’ll see people within your network who have gone through the same thing and can relate to you.” 

The Race to Honor and Stay Connected to Nature and Community

Candy also found peace and solace in the outdoors and her love of running. In the Summer of 2019, she created a milestone goal to run 50 miles for her 50th birthday. She signed up for a race in Tahoe for 2020, which was eventually canceled due to COVID. “I didn’t want that cancellation to not allow me to finish my goal.” She worked with a coach, continued to train, and found an outlet in the outdoors and long runs with friends.

In honor of her sister’s 65th birthday, she ran a 50-mile loop, the “Cirque de Summit,” her own version of the canceled race. Side by side with a friend, honoring the loss of both their mothers, the two began ‘the race’ in Breckenridge at 5 a.m. They ran to Peak 8 and connected with the peaks trail, continued through Frisco to the Dillon Dam Reservoir trailhead for a quick loop, off to the Oro Grande in Dillon and Silverthorne, next to Keystone connecting with Tiger Run and back to the Wellington neighborhood in Breckenridge, arriving around midnight. 

“We ran the race together to get through this rough time, stay connected to nature, and have a purpose and goal outside of our grief.” 

Candy Elkind

Candy Elkind and her friend getting ready to run the 50-mile Cirque de Summit.

Candy recognizes there are limited resources in small Colorado mountain towns. She hopes as “the Connector” her philanthropy and fundraising work can make an impact on our unique community and often-transient citizens. 

In the end, it boils down to connecting with others and seeking healing for yourself. Candy concludes: “Do your very best to not isolate yourself. It’s hard to ask for help. People are prideful and don’t want to burden someone else. I hope they can find it within themselves to not feel embarrassed to share, and not be afraid to be vulnerable.”

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Story by Alyse Piburn, special projects writer for Building Hope Summit County. If you have a story to share, reach out to her at alyse@buildinghopesummit.org. Photos submitted by Candy Elkind